New government data reveals growing use of out of court measures to deal with criminal offences, prompting concerns that they are being deployed to relieve pressure on the justice system.

Figures published today show that 164,000 out of court disposals were issued between March 2020 to March 2021, 9% more than the previous year. This increase was driven by a 16% increase in community resolution orders, 132,000 of which were issued. These orders are intended to deal with low level crimes where the offender admits wrongdoing and do not lead to a criminal record.

In contrast, the number of defendants prosecuted at all courts fell by 32% between March 2020 to March 2021, and the number of offenders who were convicted fell by 34% compared with the previous year,

Bar Council chair Derek Sweeting QC said that, given the current backlog in the criminal courts, ‘there is a risk that out of court measures will be seen as a way to relieve pressure on the system. But public confidence will only be maintained by long-term investment, including more court staff and enough courts to hear cases’.

‘Greater reliance on community resolutions for more serious offences can send the wrong message to the public and victims of crime – that this is a “get out of jail free card”,’ he said. ‘Whilst out of court disposals can be effective in reducing reoffending for minor offences, they must not be seen simply as an alternative to court, especially for sex offences or other serious crimes. Criminals must be dealt with in a manner that reflects the seriousness of their offending, otherwise, the public will lose confidence in the criminal justice system.

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